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Crashed Volvo C30 Electric for Detroit Motor Show (copyright image) (copyright image)

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11th January, 2011

At this year's Detroit Motor Show, Volvo Cars is drawing attention to the issue of electric car safety by displaying a Volvo C30 Electric that has undergone a frontal collision test at the low speed of 64 km/h.

"In Detroit we are the first car maker to show the world what a truly safe electric car looks like after a collision with high-speed impact," says Volvo Cars' President and CEO Stefan Jacoby.

"Our tests show it is vital to separate the batteries from the electric car's crumple zones to make it as safe as a conventional car.This is of utmost importance not only to the people riding in an electric car, but also to, for example, first responders," says Stefan Jacoby.

"We note that not everyone that now launches or is in the process of launching electric cars are approaching the safety challenges as we are. But Volvo will never compromise on our stringent safety demands," Jacoby continued without naming any company in particular.

Batteries and cables intact

The car on show is a Volvo C30 Electric, which had a fully charged battery when it was tested at Volvo Cars' crash test laboratory in early December 2010. The crash was a so-called offset collision in which 40 per cent of the front hit a barrier at 64 km/h.

"The test produced exactly the results we expected. The C30 Electric offers the very same high safety level as a C30 with a combustion engine. The front deformed and distributed the crash energy as we expected. Both the batteries and the cables that are part of the electric system remained entirely intact after the collision," relates Jan Ivarsson, Senior Manager Safety Strategy & Requirements at Volvo Cars.

Large batteries, small motor

The structure of an electric car differs from that of a conventional car - and the new components pose a number of new safety challenges, just as fuel supply is recognised as a potential problem in a collision in conventional cars.

In order to give the Volvo C30 Electric a range of up to 150 km it is necessary to have a battery pack that weighs about 300 kg and this takes up far more space than a conventional fuel tank. Under the bonnet, the combustion engine has been replaced by a more packaging-efficient and lighter electric motor. What is more, the car has a 400 Volt high-voltage electric system.

"Our far-reaching research emphasises the importance of separating the lithium-ion batteries from the car's crumple zones and the passenger compartment. This is the same safety approach we apply with regard to the fuel tank in a conventional car. Another challenge is to reinforce the crumple zones at the front where the smaller motor occupies less space than usual," says Jan Ivarsson.

Well-protected batteries

In the Volvo C30 Electric the batteries are fitted in the traditional fuel tank position and in the tunnel area. The batteries are robustly encapsulated. Beams and other parts of the car's structure around the battery pack are reinforced. All the cables are shielded for maximum protection.

The crash sensor in the car also controls the fuses - and power is cut in 50 milliseconds in a collision by the same signal that deploys the airbags. The system has several fuses that cut directly if an earth fault is detected, such as a damaged cable coming into contact with the body frame.

In a conventional car, the combustion engine helps distribute the incoming collision forces. In the C30 Electric this task is performed by a reinforced frontal structure that also helps absorb the increased collision energy made as a result of the car's added weight.

Comprehensive test programme

The crash-tested cars are part of a rigorous test programme that also includes a large number of virtual crashes. Individual components and systems are also tested individually.

In addition to frontal full-scale tests, the C30 Electric has been subjected to other accident scenarios such as side collisions and rear-end impacts. The programme also includes front and side collisions with a rigid pole. The aim is to ensure that the car gives its occupants the best possible crash protection in the accident scenarios that are most frequent in real-life traffic.

"For us, the technology behind electric power is yet another exciting challenge in our drive to build the safest cars in the world," explains Jan Ivarsson.

No compromise

With the possibility of climate change occuring at some time in the future, interest in electric cars by government bodies and power generation companies (but not neccessarily by private individuals though) has increased. The electric motor is almost four times more energy-efficient than a combustion engine - and if the electric car is recharged using renewable energy it produces virtually no carbon dioxide emissions. Although it is recognised that there isn't sufficient renewable energy available to provide battery recharging.

"The C30 Electric meets car buyers' increasing demands for minimised carbon dioxide emissions. However, this can under no circumstances come at the expense of other properties that customers expect of their Volvos. That is why our electric C30 has to be as comfortable, as usable, as fun to drive and as safe as all the other C30 variants," explains Lennart Stegland, director of Volvo Cars' Special Vehicles division.

Demo fleet on the way

Volvo Cars' electric car project currently encompasses about 250 vehicles that will be used by a number of companies and authorities. Deliveries of the first Volvo C30 Electric to customers in Sweden will start early 2012. A demo fleet is also planned for the United States.

Environmental strategy

The Volvo C30 Electric represents just one approach to Volvo Cars' environmental strategy.

Volvo will introduce a plug-in hybrid in Europe in 2012. It features a diesel engine backing up the electrical motor. This cuts emissions to less than 50g of CO2 per kilometre. Later, the plug-in hybrid will come to the United States with a petrol engine backing up the electrical drive.

The third element is to use power hybrids to provide more fuel efficiency from Volvo's new, upcoming generation of downsized engines.

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Volvo C30 Electric - Specifications

Electric motor

82 kW

Top speed

130 km/h

Acceleration 0-100 km/h

10.5 sec


Lithium-ion 24 kWh


230V, 16A, 10A, 6A

Recharging duration

8-10 hours


120-150 km

Battery weight

2 x 140 kg

Weight increase compared with
a standard car

+ 300 kg


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